On Thursday April 21st, local NY newspapers reported that Curtis Sliwa, well-known radio personality and CEO of the anti-crime activist group the Guardian Angels, was set to undergo surgery that morning for prostate cancer. The procedure was to be performed by Dr. David Samadi, world renowned expert in robotic surgery. Typical of Sliwa’s open personality, he shared details of the diagnosis and treatment with his listeners the day before, with a promise to return to the airwaves the following Monday.
Sliwa’s experience with prostate cancer began a year and a half earlier, long before he met Dr. Samadi. He had seen his general practitioner for a basic physical exam who noted a sudden rise in his PSA level. His GP referred him to Dr. Kaminetsky, a urologist, and within one week a biopsy confirmed the presence of cancer.
Dr. Kaminetsky discussed the various available options: radioactive seeds, external beam radiation and surgery. Radiation treatments were less viable options for Sliwa, who has significant scarring from gunshot wounds that he suffered in 1992. “The bullets were hollowpoint and they did a lot of damage and left behind a lot of scarring,” explained Sliwa, “So based on the MRI, seeds and radiation would cause more problems in my stomach.”
Surgery, explained Dr. Kaminetsky, was a great option, and could be done “the old fashioned way” (i.e. open surgery, using a vertical midline incision) or robotically. He quickly recommended Dr. Samadi, knowing his expertise in the field of robotic prostatectomy. Sliwa’s media colleague, Sean Hannity, also recommended Samadi, having heard of him through the Fox News Channel where he is part of the Fox News Medical A-Team.
At that time, however, Sliwa, decided to delay surgery and take a holistic approach to his prostate cancer treatment, trying a variety of homeopathic remedies over the course of a year. As a tough anti-crime activist, Sliwa felt little reason to fear his cancer. He had no risk factors or family history of the disease that he knew of. “Many people when they hear the ‘C’ word, they get paralyzed, but my outlook was positive. I didn’t feel morose. I didn’t take it as a death sentence. I figured, okay, I have no symptoms, no physical response, let’s see if this is manageable.” He explained further, “I hoped that with ‘watchful waiting’, monitoring the PSA levels and getting tested regularly, I would somehow be able to get my prostate in check, but that never happened.”
Then one day while in a meeting, Sliwa found himself in pain, unable to void his bladder and subsequently became faint. This health scare was an eye opening situation for Sliwa. He returned to his primary doctor who told him “Curtis, you can’t play Russian roulette with this – you’ve got to remove the cancer.” He returned to Dr. Samadi to discuss robotic prostatectomy and schedule a date for surgery.
Dr. Samadi reassured Sliwa that although the procedure would be complex, he has done thousands of operations and had the right team behind him. What impressed Sliwa most was the doctor’s direct involvement in the operation. “He’s in it from soup to nuts – he’s involved with every aspect, beginning to end,” he said. On the day of his operation, once he was settled into his room, everyone was introduced to him, along with their specific duties for the operation. Dr. Samadi assured him that once he got behind the controls of the robot, he wouldn’t be relieved of duty until Sliwa was safely back in his room.
Because of Sliwa’s previous gunshot wounds, Dr. Samadi also brought in a general surgeon as an added measure to ensure his patient’s safety. “Samadi is confident in his and his team’s ability but he was also cautious,” said Sliwa, “He was ready with a Plan B and promised that he wouldn’t seal me back up and just let someone else finish up at another time.”
“Going into the operating room, it felt like a team right before a NCAA basketball game,” said Sliwa, “The team was pumped up, and thankfully they weren’t nameless, faceless people. We all walked together. Samadi was clearly the quarterback leading us in, and everyone was proud of their roles.”
He also remarked how the hospital stay felt more like a luxury hotel “I had been in out of hospitals my whole life and I was not looking forward to this, but it felt like a private room in a hotel – no hospital smells or noises, the employees are like hotel employees, just focusing on service and your comfort.” And that service, he said, did not go away once the work day was over – he received the same level of care at all times.
96 hours after his surgery, Sliwa returned to the airwaves as promised. “With Dr. Samadi and his team, the follow-up care has always been available. Even now – weeks later, they are making sure I’m following my post-op treatment and exercise regimen. The care is truly top shelf, 5 star, not over the top, nagging me, but vigilant,” described Sliwa.
He is now cancer free, a message that Dr. Samadi was more than happy to deliver.
Now cancer-free, Sliwa continues to advocate prostate cancer awareness, having teamed up with Dr. Samadi and The Daily News to promote their annual week of free prostate cancer screenings throughout New York City. This was the 10th year that The Daily News sponsored the free screenings, through which more than 155,000 men have been tested. Dr. Samadi’s office, one of dozens of offices that participated in this initiative, screened approximately 200 men during that week.